A gourmet's guide to Christmas

For a festive feast with an extra touch of class, let Charles Campion be your guide
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Christmas cake

Delia Smith started the trend with her recipe for a Caribbean Christmas cake, and thankfully the traditional Christmas cake - very heavy, black with fruit and almost sour-tasting - is steadily giving way to rich fruit cakes that are lighter but still have luxurious amounts of glacé fruit and nuts. The Country Fare cake from Lakeland is remarkably good: moist, rich, and made from good-quality ingredients, too.

Country Fare Glacé Fruit Cake, 1kg, £15.99. From branches of Lakeland (015394 88100), www.lakelandlimited.co.uk

Runner-up: Mrs Caffrey's Fruit Cake from Devon - £14.95, available from Mortimer & Bennett (020-8995 4145), www.mortimerandbennett.co.uk

Mince pies

When it comes to mince pies, a trip to any supermarket will give you plenty of choice. It seems that we no longer make our own, though home-made, hot-from-the-oven pies are the very best. At a stroke, I dismiss puff-pastry pies - too greasy; lattice-topped pies - too dried out; miniature pies - poor balance between filling and crust. The best all-butter shortcrust mince pies are from Duchy Originals.

Duchy Originals Organic Mince Pies, £2.99 for six, available from supermarkets

Runner-up: Marks & Spencer classic recipe deep-filled mince pies, £1.49 for six

Ham

By the time it gets to you, the Dukeshill Shropshire Black ham will have had its black outer skin removed and be ready to carve. Cured in molasses, juniper and spices and matured for three months, it has a perfect texture and a rich flavour. No wonder it won gold at the 2006 Great Taste Awards.

Dukeshill Shropshire Black Ham: whole (min 5.7kg) £86, half (min 2.6kg) £49, plus £4.95 overnight carriage (0845 3700 129) www.dukeshillham.co.uk

Runner-up: Suffolk Black Ham, from Emmett's of Peasenhall, sweet pickled, ready to carve - whole (from 6kg) £103.50, half (4kg) £81 (01728 660250) www.emmettsham.co.uk

Chocolate truffles

It is claimed by Prestat that the first chocolate truffle was made in Chambéry, France, in December 1895, and that when he set up in London in 1902, Antoine Dufour brought the recipe with him. All of which may or may not be true, but one thing is verifiable - Prestat Chocolate Truffles are the best money can buy, as a couple of Royal warrants attest. Chocolates are a very personal vice so I have chosen Banoffee Truffles for the ladies - very rich with a delectable banana and caramel middle. And Marc de Champagne Truffles for the gentlemen - astonishing depth of flavour and a gentle kick. Neither of these elegant boxes will last long once opened.

Prestat Banoffee Truffles, 200g, £9.95; Prestat Marc de Champagne Truffles, 200g, £11.95. From Gift Inspiration (01747 820800) www.giftinspiration.com

Runner-up: Fortnum & Mason "Finest Truffle Selection", 540g drum, £40 (0845 300 1707) www.fortnumandmason.co.uk

Goose

When you choose a goose for Christmas lunch, you're lining up fabulous roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, as well as avoiding festive bird leftovers, because a goose can be finished at a sitting! At Goodman's Geese, the flock size has risen from 100 in 1984 to more than 4,000 this year; they graze free-range in large paddocks and get no additives or growth promoters in their food. I heartily recommend them.

Goodman's free range, oven-ready geese from 4.5kg to 6kg, £8.45 per kg (01299 896272), www.goodmansgeese.co.uk

Runner-up: Seldom Seen Farm: geese between 10 and 14lbs at £3.70 per lb (0116-259 6742), www.seldomseenfarm.co.uk

Turkey

Ever since Tiny Tim staggered home with the prize bird, turkeys have been at the heart of the Christmas meal. The Cratchit family would probably have been tucking into a Norfolk Black turkey - one of the older breeds, with a very narrow breast. Large, white turkeys were introduced in the 1960s. Today, the Kelly Bronze is the best, as it combines the flavour of the Black with the good meat-to-bone ratio of the White.

Kelly's Bronze Turkey: 4kg bird, £56, delivered by courier on 22 Dec (01245 223581), www.kelly-turkeys.com

Runner-up: A three-bird roast by Adlington - a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a pheasant! 5-6kg, £99.95 incl delivery on 22 Dec (01676 532681), www.turkeytalk.co.uk

Brandy butter

There are two important factors here: the texture, and the brandy content. Most commercial brandy butters use icing sugar which makes them very smooth; when I make my own I always use caster sugar on the basis that the slight crunch is a bonus. Taylors' ready-made brandy butter is smooth and icing sugary; it has just 5 per cent brandy, but it is still the best shop-bought option.

Taylors Brandy Butter, £1.69, from branches of Lakeland (015394 88100), www.lakelandlimited.co.uk

Runner-up: Cottage Delight Brandy Butter, 225g £3.50 (01538 398949), www.cottagedelight.co.uk

Panettone

It's hard to warm to Panettone, as so many seem rather dull. But this Italian festival bread can make a change from Christmas cake and provides the perfect building block for a superior bread and butter pudding. Carluccio's Cappuccino Panettone hails from Lombardy, is flavoured with coffee and has chocolate chips. Whether or not it is strictly classical doesn't matter - it tastes very good.

Carluccio's Panettone Cappuccino: 1kg £13.95, Carluccio's and www.carluccios.com

Runner-up: Casa Corsini Panettone, 500g £5.49, from Waitrose, www.ocado.com

Stilton

This has been a glorious year for Cropwell Bishop, which has won a shed-load of awards for its cheeses - both the regular Stilton and the organic Stilton. The Cropwell Bishop style gives a cheese that has even blueing running through it and is very creamy, but which also has a satisfying savoury-salty tang.

Cropwell Bishop: half Stilton (3.7kg) £41.50; whole Stilton (7.5kg) £69.25 (0115-989 2986), www.cropwellbishopstilton.com

Runner-up: The recently established Stilton Dairy, Quenby Hall (0116-259 5224) www.quenby stilton.co.uk, half (4.1kg) £45, whole (8.2kg) £91 (delivery £10)

Christmas pudding

Fortnum & Mason's "King George Christmas Pudding" is a belter. Named for the "pudding King", it doesn't skimp on ingredients and is made with beef suet. It also adds prunes to the usual roster of dried fruits. A nostalgic, old-fashioned Christmas pudding.

Fortnum's King George Christmas Pudding, 454g £16.95 (0845 300 1707), www.fortnumandmason.co.uk

Runner-up: Lakeland Triple Ginger Pudding (a simple sponge pudding made with Buderim ginger and ginger wine), £4.99, Lakeland (015394 88100), www.lakelandlimited.co.uk

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